Inappropriate behaviour of any kind has no place in the Assembly.
As Commissioners, elected representatives and employers, we take our responsibility to create an inclusive and respectful workplace free from any form of harassment extremely seriously.
Since October last year, we have worked with colleagues from all parties and staff to better understand how dignity and respect at the Assembly is observed. We have recently approved a new policy and delivered many improvements to raise awareness of the relevant issues. Moreover, we have clarified our reporting processes and enhanced the support we provide.
As part of this comprehensive programme of work, we undertook an anonymous and confidential online survey between 19 April and 11 May open to all Commission staff, Member support staff and Assembly Members. The survey aimed to establish whether we were planning appropriately and to look at the experiences of inappropriate behaviour at the Assembly, in constituency offices or any other place that individuals undertake their work. Many of the questions asked were based on the Civil Service-wide survey that has been developed and undertaken. We were also keen to ensure that participants were reminded of the emotional support available given the sensitive subject matter.
The Assembly Commission is grateful to everyone who came forward and participated. We received 128 responses representing a participation rate of 16.8% of those invited to take part in the survey. Although the sample is small, we value the views expressed and they will contribute to our ongoing work on dignity and respect which we recognise must be further developed with pace and purpose.
We have taken a broad approach to describing what constitutes inappropriate behaviour, which puts the recipient at the heart of our Dignity and Respect policy. It matters less whether others would see it as serious or not. The policy covers all unwanted behaviour – that is, behaviour which is not encouraged or reciprocated by the recipient, regardless of whether it was meant to cause offence, and whether it is repeated or an isolated incident.
The results, nevertheless, make for uncomfortable reading for us as an Assembly Commission and indeed for all Assembly Members. While the majority of participants state that they have never experienced or observed inappropriate behaviour, the results provide a sufficient mandate for radical changes to the way we as individuals and collectively as Wales’ democratic institution perceive inappropriate behaviour, report incidents and provide support for those who have been subjected to and those accused of inappropriate behaviour.
Every single one of us – Assembly Members, support staff, Commission staff and contractors - have a role to play in creating the right culture and environment here at the Welsh parliament. The dignity and respect training being rolled out for Members and staff will help raise awareness, but the day-to-day behaviours we all demonstrate will be the catalyst for change. Every one of us, staff managers and Assembly Members has personal responsibility for making that change happen.
During the Plenary debate on 16 May, when the Assembly approved the Dignity and Respect policy, it was acknowledged that the Assembly needed to build trust in the complaint systems. Overall, a range of responses indicate different levels of trust in our processes and procedures. However, it also provides further evidence that it is difficult to report politicians or senior managers and concerns were raised about the potential career limitations of making formal complaints. That is entirely unacceptable.
The survey does suggest that there are experiences where incidents of inappropriate behaviour have been dealt with effectively without the need to instigate formal procedures and general recognition that the Assembly is a good place to work. But clearly, there is much more to be done to change personal behaviour so that it is consistent with the Dignity and Respect policy and to ensure that individuals feel empowered to come forward so that their complaints or concerns can be resolved.
All of the suggestions and feedback received about enhanced professional development are being planned or implemented so that they become the norm across our training programmes and internal communication tools. We will also monitor and review the embedding and effectiveness of the new Contact Officer role over time. Any changes in practice will form part of a consultation with staff and unions in the usual way.
In advance of this statement, the Llywydd yesterday submitted the findings of this survey to the Standards of Conduct Committee for its consideration in its inquiry “Creating the Right Culture: Inquiry into the Review of the Code of Conduct for Assembly Members”. We have no doubt that the Committee will consider this evidence carefully and will use it as it deliberates and brings forth recommendations for future action across this institution.
To demonstrate our strength of feeling on this issue, the Llywydd, on behalf of the Commission, has also written to party leaders highlighting the main findings and asking them to raise the issues within their own groups. Similarly, the Assembly Commission’s Executive Board has been asked to consider the survey report in detail. We want every part of the organisation to take these findings seriously.
Today we are restating the view that inappropriate behaviour by Members, their staff or Commission staff will not be tolerated. Collectively, we all have a responsibility to ensure that the National Assembly for Wales is a safe environment for those who work here, for those who visit the estate and for anyone who has dealings with us. Those principles apply wherever we undertake our work.
We would like to remind staff and Members who participated in the survey that emotional support is available. Details of our Freephone number, Contact Officers and the support available is provided here on our Dignity and Respect pages.
Elin Jones, Llywydd
Joyce Watson, Assembly Commissioner
Suzy Davies, Assembly Commissioner
Adam Price, Assembly Commissioner
Caroline Jones, ex Assembly Commissioner
Dignity and Respect Survey: Results report (PDF, 2.86 MB)